Merkley intros bill to have libraries open at summer meal sites

WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with Reps. Joseph Morelle (D-NY-25) and John Katko(R-NY-24), introduced Wednesday the bipartisan, bicameral Summer Meals and Learning Act of 2019, legislation to address summer learning inequality by keeping school libraries open at schools that already serve free summer meals.

“Every student—no matter their color, income, or zip code—deserves an excellent education that puts them on track for a lifetime of success,” said Merkley. But when school’s out for summer vacation, millions of children go months without learning opportunities, leaving them at a disadvantage.

Oregon has helped students across the state maintain or even increase their academic skills during summer months by keeping their school libraries open, and it only makes sense to give students throughout the country the same opportunity to get the high-quality, year-round education they deserve.

“Lack of access to educational opportunities over the summer has a clear and detrimental effect on students’ long-term academic success,” said Rep. MorelleChildren in poverty and low-income communities already face a number of barriers to achievement without being exacerbated by summer learning loss. I’m proud to partner with Representative Katko to introduce this common-sense legislation that combats both academic and nutritional instability and ensures students have a safe, stable place to learn over the summer.

For far too many children in our community, the only nutritious meal that they receive is at school.  This means that during the summer months, these children may go without healthy meals, said Congressman KatkoAdditionally, vulnerable children often lack access to public education over the summer months and cannot continue to build reading skills. This legislation tackles both issues, enabling at-risk children to enjoy quality meals while simultaneously advancing their education between school years.

You cannot learn on an empty stomach. Sadly, for many kids, summer equals hunger. Good summer programs provide students with access to nutritious meals, which millions of children in the U.S. need, said Aaron Philip Dworkin, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “Programs that bring together natural partners like schools and libraries and include the critical summer meals component help communities efficiently use resources and ensure that youth who are most at risk have access to summer supports that help them thrive year-round.”

“Many children are unable access the wonderful summer reading programs in public libraries due to transportation and working families,” said Beth Unverzagt, Director, OregonASK.“The federal funding for this partnership with libraries and summer food will provide the needed access for children and youth.”

While more affluent children often participate in extracurricular activities during the summer, too many low-income children lose access to learning opportunities when school is closed. Low-income children lose at least two months of reading achievement every summer, and by 5th grade, children without summer learning opportunities are two years behind their peers.

Despite the fact that summer has been identified as a major factor in the achievement gap in America’s schools, there is still no dedicated source of funding for summer learning. 

Research has also shown that high quality summer learning programs can help students maintain or even increase their academic skills over the summer months, especially in reading. However, the majority of school libraries are closed during the summer.

In 2012, Oregon’s Summer Learning Partnership created a grant program to allow schools to keep their libraries open at existing summer meal sites to benefit the students most at-risk. Based on Oregon’s successful program, the Summer Learning and Meals Act of 2019 would create a new federal grant program that provides grants to state libraries to allow schools with summer lunch programs to keep their libraries open for student use during the summer months.

The new grant program established by the Summer Learning and Meals Act would provide up to $5 million in grants to state libraries to fund summer reading programs at schools that 1) have a summer lunch program and 2) where at least 50% of students read below grade level or are at risk of reading below grade levels.

The Summer Meals and Learning Act of 2019 is endorsed by the National Summer Learning Association, Share Our Strength, and OregonASK.

The full text of the bill is available here.